The other day I read a startling story about an 11-year-old boy who escaped Ukraine, traveling a terrifying three-day journey alone to Slovakia to reunite with his brother.
Aside from the drama of the story, what stayed with me was the heroic kindness of others.
A family friend watched over the boy for part of his journey; a stranger drove the boy to the border and once in Slovakia someone volunteered to drive him six hours to his brother’s home.
Another stranger offered to help the boy’s mother, who reluctantly stayed behind to care for the boy’s ailing grandmother. Eventually, both the mother and the grandmother, who hadn’t left her house in three years because of dementia, made their own perilous escape to Slovakia.
Meanwhile, generous Polish families are housing Ukrainians, volunteering online to create a network of private homes, for those who have no place to live after fleeing their war-torn country. So far, the outpouring of housing volunteers in Poland has been so large that public refugee housing hasn’t been needed.
The world is frightening right now (made more so by reports of heinous Russian war crimes.) But sometimes glimmers of kindness shine through calamity. And, like sea glass hidden in the sand, we can find them.
It might seem heretical to think about kindness in the midst of tragedy. The drumbeat of bad news is percussive and relentless. Finding kindness in the news of the world, in your daily life, and in those, you know and meet also requires a belief that human beings are more capable of good than bad. For many, that’s a hard sell right now, but it’s worth trying to shift perspective if only as a mental counterweight.
More demonstrably, it’s worth being kind and, equally important, to notice when we’re not.
A small example: The other day, early in the morning, my very loud doorbell rang. Grumpy and irritated by the intrusion, I opened the door to find a man in an orange vest standing in my courtyard.
In broken and initially incomprehensible English he tried to tell me he needed to access my driveway and my backyard to work on some cable wires. The fact that we couldn’t seamlessly communicate irritated me further. And I felt my annoyance radiating outward toward the man, who seemed to shrink during our encounter.
Then, I caught myself.
I thought about how difficult it must have been for him to ring my doorbell and ask as best he could to do his work. I thought about his work, which required him to climb up a tall and precarious ladder in other people’s backyards. And I thought: He doesn’t deserve my frustration.
I apologized to him for my gruffness, backed my car out of my driveway, and told him to be safe.
What I offered him was nothing close to heroic kindness – just a course correction and an acknowledgment I could do better.
Sometimes those small gestures are the best we can do and, even so, the world is better a better place because of them.
On My Mind
Violence stems from dehumanization. When we stop seeing each other as kindred spirits with shared humanity it’s easier for hate to breed, grow and escalate into war.
There are many good people in the world who are working hard to help all of us move beyond our biases and judgments in the hopes of creating greater understanding and, ultimately, less hate.
One such remarkable organization is the Human Library. Based in Copenhagen, Denmark the Human Library is a “library” of human beings that “readers” can borrow for conversations they normally wouldn’t have access to with people they might not normally encounter.
Every human book in the library represents a group that’s often subject to prejudice, stigma, or discrimination because of their lifestyle, diagnosis, belief, disability, or social status. All of the human books are volunteers with personal experience of what their “book” is about.
The Human Library creates a safe space for people to dialog with each other and learn more about the experiences of others. And when we have those sorts of open-hearted conversations reflexive judgments and assumptions tend to get replaced with connection and compassion and a lot less hate.
To learn more about how the Human Library works watch the video below